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43rd TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Introduces Oscar Hopefuls

43rd TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Introduces Oscar Hopefuls

Over Labor Day weekend we had the chance to attend the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival, staged in the idyllic Colorado mountains. Here is a bit of what we observed and learned about this year’s films and awards season (you can find some of my reviews elsewhere on the page).

On opening night the biggest surprise was the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s Sully. The film was produced by one of Telluride’s favorite sons, Frank Marshall, leading many to speculate that it had been selected for that reason alone. Having seen the film I have to agree—it is neither the indie fare nor the powerful commercial movie that Telluride tends to go for. Still, Eastwood and Hanks got standing ovations in recognition of undeniably brilliant careers.

The indie movie Moonlight, about a young black gay man, also was a festival favorite after having its world premiere at Telluride. It could be that indie-movie to watch out for during awards season even though it has little chance of going mainstream.

The story of the night, however, belonged to Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, the story of a couple trying to make it big in Hollywood. With the director and the charming Emma Stone in tow, the movie received mid-screening ovations and a thunderous applause towards the end. It almost literally brought down the house and positioned itself as the current movie to beat for the Best Picture Oscar (with Stone a serious contender as well).

Indeed, seen prancing around town at various times were Stone with her pal Rooney Mara, who had a film of her own, Una, at the fest. Una is based on a play called Blackbird, which follows a young woman as she copes with her obsession for the older man who had a sexual relationship with her when she was a young teenager. I expect that Emma and Rooney will be spending a lot of time together this awards season circuit, along with the third in the trio of lovely Telluride ladies—Amy Adams.

In fact, I saw the two of them leaving the screening of Adams’ Arrival, the sci-fi film that turned out to be my surprise favorite of the fest. I was also able to attend, in fact, the tribute to Amy Adams’ career that preceded the screening. During it, she spoke about how she was discovered while she was a dinner theater actress in Minnesota, and how having children has helped her not be so obsessed with everything that surrounded her life.

There was also a tribute to Casey Affleck to start the screening of the incredibly depressing Manchester by the Sea. After seeing a few clips of Casey’s work, the audience heard about how Casey prefers not to take on any single project, but how he’s had to at times simply to make money.

Richard Gere and Bryan Cranston were also seen about town, as each had a film (Norman and Wakefield) to promote. Both of the movies received mild to warm reactions and having seen them I’d agree that they are amusing but hardly Earth-shattering. Other, smaller films did well, and I did not even get a chance to see any of the much-talked about documentaries. Such is the nature of a festival so rich with offerings but so cramped in for time.

I also had a quick conversation with Chile’s own Pablo Larrain, who this year is directing both Neruda and Jackie, as well as with Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. Telluride also honored Larrain and Bernal was on hand to introduce him, but it was on the street with a cigarette that I chatted with them about the excitement of being in the reclusive Rockies for film.

So the star-studded affair rolled to a close almost as quickly as it began, surrounded by the heavy sighs of moviegoers and by the anxious thoughts of Oscar hopefuls that their movies may have just been launched on a path to Gold next February.

We shall soon find out.

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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